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LookingLocal launches online benefits platform

29/05/15

Kirklees Council BetterOff combines calculations, advice and job seeking support

Kirklees Council is pushing out an online benefits calculator developed by its LookingLocal service that incorporates advice and support in finding jobs.

looking-local_1Named BetterOff, it is now going through its final phases of tests in Kirklees and is scheduled to go into full use in late summer. It is also being offered to other local authorities.

Guy Giles, managing director of LookingLocal, told UKAuthority that BetterOff has been designed to help people on benefits get a clear idea of what they are entitled to and challenge any decisions when necessary. It works through a website and mobile apps, running on all the main operating systems.

“We’ve digitised all the forms that take up the majority of advisers’ time and added the advice that they usually provide to help people fill them out,” he said. “For example, it asks questions like ‘Can you reach for a coffee jar in the cupboard?’ to establish a level of disability.

“It helps people to complete the forms properly first time, and can help to prevent appeal tribunals and sanctions.”

Budget cut

He said the advice budget for the council has been cut by £400,000 and that the investment in BetterOff has been made to deal with the resulting pressures.

The council predicted that about 70% of benefits claimants will be able to use it to self-serve, reducing the pressure on face-to-face and telephone contact services. However, it will also provide support centres with advisers for those who are not completely confident, and face-to-face support for claimants who are vulnerable or have complex needs.

It also forecast that it will maintain its current 80% success rate at tribunals.

Economic and social benefits

Steve Bird, welfare and exchequer services manager at Kirklees Council, said: “Ensuring that people on benefits claim their full entitlement and are fully supported in their search for employment has clear economic and social benefits and reduces the financial burden on other public services.  Developing technology that helps the majority of users self-serve will help advisers focus personal contact on more vulnerable customers, or those with more complex needs.”

LookingLocal is working with entitledto, which provides online benefits calculators, to deliver the service. It has had input from a number of other organisations including Citizens Advice Bureau and Jobcentre Plus.

Giles said it hopes to partner with other local authorities and advice organisations to make improvements in BetterOff, and is holding a preview day in Birmingham on 8 July for senior benefits and advice managers. He added that 15-20 other local authorities have already shown an interest in the platform, and that it could be branded differently for individual councils.

This is the latest in a series of digital services for local authorities developed by LookingLocal since it was set up in 2004. They have included MyCouncil, an app for public contact with councils, LetsHelpYou for people on Local Housing Allowance to contact landlords, and the Self-Care Hub for patients with long term health issues.

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